I get asked by a lot of writers who are in or are alums of the two network writing programs I completed (CBS and NBC) and by writers I’ve met in other venues about how to prep for staffing season. So I figured I’d share a little bit of my process and put it out there for folks who might be interested.

First let me say, grain of salt and all that. I’ve been through staffing three times, once without representation where I was up for one job I didn’t get; once with representation where I got unbearably close to three jobs and didn’t get any of them; and the third go around where — success! My reps and I finally got to have that fabulous “You got the job!” phone call. So this is just what I do. Maybe a different strategy will work for you. Mostly my message is: prepare. You have to be an active participant in building your career.

Since I’m getting ready to hit the trenches again, here’s a little peek into how I look at staffing, and if it helps you, great, and if not, you can feel free to give me side-eye since I can’t see you doing it.

Be prepared and have your samples ready. Samples are what get you the meetings that get you the jobs. Have samples you love and be ready to talk about them. And always be adding to your body of work. My current group of samples is made up of pilots, specs, and short stories. You never know what might work to get you in the door.

And really evaluate what kinds of material you already have when you’re deciding what to write next. Do you have samples that will service the different types of shows you might want to work for? You don’t have to write everything. Most of us have a “type” when it comes to shows. But if you want to make female-lead dramas an option and all your samples are male leads, it’s time to travel a different road. Want to write a sci-fi show? Have a sci-fi sample. Give yourself as much of an opportunity as you can.

Be a partner to your representative(s). I am blessed with agency and management representation from people who totally get me. I don’t generally have to explain why I like a show or a script or why I think I’m a good fit. But sometimes a script speaks to me that’s a little outside my usual box, and I know that even though it might not be the most obvious show to try to pitch me to, I have something to offer them. So I make sure to list what samples I think I have in my portfolio that might work if that showrunner is looking for a staff writer and I explain why I think I could sell myself for that job. And while returning shows are always harder to get at that staff writer level, have a list of returning shows that you’re right for, too. You never know when an upper-level writer might leave to go make their own show and an opportunity opens up at the lower level.

Know everything you can about what’s going on. It seems obvious, but you’d be shocked how often I ask writers about pilots they’ve read or liked and they aren’t familiar with who wrote them or what network they’re at. Know your game board. Read every trade summary you can find on what scripts were bought where… some only cover network buys, some cover cable, Amazon, and Netflix, too. You have to know where your jobs are so you can go out and find them.

Strategize your pilot reads. Once you know whose scripts made the cut and are being shot, take a critical eye to the list. There will be writers there you admire, writers whose shows you’ve loved, writers you just heard from another friend were kind of awesome; there will be shows you know you could write in your sleep because they fit your brand to perfection; there will be shows you know you have a strong sample for. List those shows and start reading and don’t stop till you’ve finished that group of scripts. Then list your favorites, let your reps know that if you got to be choosy, this is the group of pilots you know you’d love to work on, and get them any supporting info you can (see be a partner to your reps). You may not get meetings on those shows, but every bit of information you give your reps on what you like and why you like it will help them market you better to all the shows they contact on your behalf.

Once you do that, read the rest of the pilots. There will always be some you know you’d likely never get a meeting for… it’s not your thing, no samples that match, etc. But if you go on a general at Fox, the exec might ask you about that sci-fi skewing pilot you didn’t read because you knew you’d never meet on it… and you don’t want to have to admit you didn’t read it or fumble through a vague general conversation. The more you can engage the people you meet with, the more you make an impression on them, and that will always come back to you in a good way, even if it’s a few staffing seasons down the pike.

Always, always be polite and gracious to everyone you meet, from the gate to the actual executive or showrunner you’re going to talk to. Again, seems obvious. But I know people at the upper level and in executive suites who tune out on writers who don’t say hello and good-bye to their assistants or who act a little jerky to the security guards. You might be working with these folks soon. Be someone they want to see again.

Always be prepping. If you hear you’re in the mix for Show A and you know the creator of Show A worked on three shows you’ve never watched at all, go watch a few episodes to get a feel for what they’ve done. Sure, maybe you don’t end up getting a meeting, but if you do, you aren’t scrambling to catch up on that person’s body of work while also trying to re-read the pilot and come up with notes on story ideas or questions you want to ask. Watching more TV will never hurt you as a writer. Trust me, if it could, I’d be in perpetual pain because the sheer volume of TV I watch… oy!

And watch at least one episode of any show an executive covers before you go meet with them. That’s what they do for a living and you want to respect their hard work as much as you want yours respected. Sure, maybe you can’t be an expert, but when they mention they also cover Shows X, Y, and Z, you can have something nice to say or have a “Wow, I saw that finale. Interesting way to leave things” comment at the ready. That may not be the show you’re there to meet on, but a genuine interest in what those folks in Current and Development do goes a long way.

Be happy for all your friends who do get jobs. We’re competitive beasts whether we like it or not. It’s hard to watch people get that thing you want so badly. Sometimes you will literally lose out on a job to someone you’ve traded scripts with for notes or had Sunday brunch with. But the way I’ve come to look at it, any job I don’t get is a job that wasn’t meant to be mine. Pollyannaish? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I mean, I’m writing a blog telling you folks how to go out and get jobs I might be up for! But too many people have helped me and given me advice for me to be unwilling to share myself.

So be happy for your friends, celebrate with them, and know that when you get your job, they’ll celebrate with you.

And finally… don’t give up. Two years ago, I didn’t get two jobs back to back right before Memorial Day weekend. It was soul crushing; I cannot lie. I gave myself a day to be miserable over it. Then I entered scripts in the Austin Film Festival to make myself feel better, like I was doing something to help my career. I made the finals with one of those scripts and ended up going to the festival and having a ton of fun. I also met some writers who have become friends. Making that cut was some much needed validation and it made my inner circle a little bit bigger.

Maybe that tactic won’t work for you, but whatever you need to do to pick yourself up when you don’t get the gig, do it. Have someone else help pick you up if need be! Because endurance wins this race. After I didn’t get those two gigs and another one a month later, I went to work on the pilot that did get me a job last season. And even though that show got canceled, I came out of it and went right back to writing.

That’s all you really have control over in the end. You keep writing, and you keep being sure the right job is going to come. And on the days you forget… ask someone to remind you. It helps, believe me!

Good luck!

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